As I'm sure I've said here before, conventional wisdom holds that world building relates to science fiction and fantasy. But every story involves a world that must be created for it. Historical fiction, in particular, can require as much world building as any work of scifi or fantasy. A Bandit's Tale: The Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket by Deborah Hopkinson is an excellent example. The world here is 1880s New York City, complete with historical figures, establishments, and events.
After being accused of theft (where the bandit comes from in the title) in his Italian village, eleven-year-old Rocco Zaccaro's parents make a deal with a padrone (boss/patron). The man will bring Rocco to the United States as a sort of indentured servant. What will Rocco do for him? Rocco doesn't find out until he arrives in New York City. He's going to become one of the padrone's stable of child street musicians, who are essentially beggars expected to collect a minimum amount of money each day while living in squalid conditions.
Rocco moves from one situation to another, running into historical figures and places. For an a reader with a little historical knowledge, guessing what was real is part of the pleasure of this type of book.
The problems of today's immigrants to the U.S. kept coming to mind
while I was reading this. What's the connection? Immigrants have always had a hard time here. I'm not sure if
there's something comforting about that because so many groups suffered and then moved on or profoundly disturbing
because so little changes. Another interesting point: This book deals with America's nonAnglo-Saxon, Protestant experience.
The author adds terrific end material, explaining all the historical elements she worked into the story.